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Dozens Kidnapped From Baghdad University

The violence of a relatively small number of actors in Iraq continues without relief for the average Iraqi citizen today, as an estimated 80 gunmen wearing Iraqi Interior Ministry uniforms in an estimated 20 vehicles encroached on a Baghdad University and took captive dozens of Iraqi men. The number of people actually abducted is unclear, but some have put the figure as high as 150. Iraqi officials doubt the high-end estimates based on the fact that the number of vehicles used could not have carried away the eighty attackers and the claimed number of abducted university employees and visitors.

In a swift internal response, the Interior Ministry has arrested 5 senior police officers who were responsible for security in the area where the kidnapping operations took place. Potentially condemning the officers and possibly linking their involvement was a curious statement attributed to a police officer that was near the scene. The New York Times quoted an eyewitness on the scene who reported that “a police officer from a nearby checkpoint told bystanders to leave, but said he and his colleagues were powerless to stop the raid.” The witness quoted the police officer as saying, “Maybe the order came from a higher level.” If true, it indicates that Iraqi security in the area may have been ordered to stand down by superiors.

Some eyewitness accounts say that all those abducted were Sunnis, but an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said it was a mix of both Sunni and Shi’a based on family requests the Ministry has received. According to one eyewitness account, the gunmen were checking the identification of the men and then “picked only the Sunni employees. They even took the man who was just delivering tea.” The man present at the scene, identified as a Sunni known by the Reuters reporter, then said, “They gathered them all in the pick-ups. At the same time I saw two police patrols watching, doing nothing.”

Death squads and other terrorists are known to have donned purchased uniforms of both the Iraqi police and military in the past. While the cars could possibly have been that of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, headed by Shi’a leadership and troubled with past association of some of its members with Shi’a militias and death squads, they may have been intentionally made to appear as such, just as actual Iraqi security personnel may not have been wearing the uniforms.

The Iraqi Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiab, a member of a Sunni Arab party in government, said of the incident, “As far as we know this area is full of police and Defense Ministry checkpoints and we know police vehicles followed the kidnappers to a specific area and after that we don’t know what happened.”

Dhaib also said that 13 of those abducted had already been released and that the cars were reported as heading eastward, toward Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’a stronghold of the Sadr City section of Baghdad. The Iraqi Interior Ministry reported that last night prior to the kidnappings, US forces had killed six and wounded fifteen in combat with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in northwestern Baghdad.

The New York Times reported that some of the abductees “were employees of the research and engineering departments.” Though perhaps coincidental, Abu Ayyeb al-Masri, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, made a call for scientists in September, seeking those trained in “chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences — especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts.”